“Hi. My name is Marni, and I am addicted to autism parent support groups.”
Is there a 12-step-program out there for me? And if so, do I have to start attending another series of monthly meetings to break my addiction to my current monthly meetings?
It all started when Brooks first got diagnosed. My Early Intervention Service Coordinator suggested that my husband and I attend a support group, which we agreed was a good idea, but it took us a little time to actually get there. First of all, we were in the midst of scheduling 20 hours a week of therapy for our 18-month-old, which seemed no less complicated or foreign to us than launching a space shuttle. Secondly, and more to the point, we didn’t want to go. Our rationale was that Brooks would catch up to his peers within a few months, we didn’t need a support group — “nose to the grindstone” was our modus operandi.
When it became abundantly clear that we could benefit from the kind of help that only others in our situation could offer, and that dealing with this pesky autism problem meant more than a few months, we finally showed up to a meeting. And we’ve been showing up ever since. We pass around pictures of our kids, we talk, we sometimes cry (at least, I sometimes cry — although not so much anymore). We share information: this worked, that didn’t, try this school, offer this supplement, read this book…the subtext of each question or comment always: “Tell me my child will be okay.” And all the while, a gentle and caring moderator keeps us from disintegrating into despair and chaos, turning our deepest fears into opportunities to help one another.
At this point, you might be wondering what the problem is. What’s the downside of all this support? The problem is that these groups multiply. Exponentially. In addition to the original one, there are two groups from Brooks’s old school, one from his new school, one from the Y — and the ones I learn about every few months that I force myself not to sign up for.
Over the holidays, I finally came to the realization that my overall well-being might be better served if I stayed home occasionally and cooked dinner for my family (don’t laugh, people who know me — I sometimes do that!) instead of going to yet another meeting to talk about how I wish I had more time to stay home and cook dinner for my family.
So it is with conflicting emotions that I am about to stop regularly attending that original support group, and most of the others. In a positive sense, I feel like I’ve graduated: I no longer feel the desperate need for the safety net of a steady Brooks-related place and time to fall apart or celebrate, whatever the case might be. On the other hand, I feel compelled to stay connected with at least one group, and I’ve thankfully been offered welcome mats to stop back in to any group I’ve left should the need arise, or just to check in.
I’m sad, too, because I know that it will be easy to lose touch with a lot of people I’ve come to know and respect, but I’m hopeful that I can find some way to maintain these relationships. I’m proud to have been in the trenches with these parents: they have helped my family time and time again, and I hope that the help has gone both ways.
So now, Brooks can stop asking: “Mommy, are you going to a meeting?” and start asking “Mommy, what are you making for dinner?” Now my problem is (and those of you who know me and my lack of kitchen skills will know this already), how to learn to expand my dinner repertoire beyond hot dogs. Any “Parents Who Can’t Cook” support groups out there?